The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

November Pics November 22, 2014

Life’s been so full lately that I haven’t had time to archive my recent photos – plus my computer’s been in and out of the shop for weeks now, making a life sans-smart phone a tedious one indeed at times. I’ve had to visit the library a time or two to check my email. Makes me feel a bit like a vagrant, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be humbled every now and then. (Certainly helps me better appreciate the luxuries of a laptop and my favorite cozy chair.)

The changes all around us are imperceptible in the moment, but when I compare the images of this November with those from a year ago, my heart skips a beat to know how different things are now. For one, my father is gone. And now there’s a house at the end of our driveway, its windows staring straight into ours where there used to be nothing but a gentle field. We no longer have a goose guarding our home, and some favorite hens from our flock are gone. My son now plays string bass with some proficiency, and has finally experienced the freedom that tinted contacts offer. Plus, the kid is taller than last year for sure. (He’s still the shortest in his class, but hey, it’s all relative.)

Last night Elihu’s school had their fall assembly, in which each of the grades, from 1 through 12, performed. It lasted but an hour (that alone impresses me – the faculty has engineered the logistics beautifully) and it gave us all the things one expects in such a program. It had parents feeling proud, in love, in awe, and once again, in disbelief at how our children have grown so. Truly, it seems only yesterday that my dear Elihu sang in his first grade concert… And the other children, I watch them in amazement too, trying to understand this mysterious growing process that shows itself only in brief, acute moments. It’s a good thing that most of life’s big changes don’t happen all at once; myself, I like to have time in which to take things in, to figure out where things stand in the present, so I can move more mindfully into the future. But no matter how thoughtfully one approaches life, sometimes there is just no substitute for the perspective one gets in looking back.

And with that, I offer this rather lengthy pictorial retrospective on our month thus far…

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 Elihu brought his bass to the farm and played for Martha her favorite song, Simple Gifts.

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The farm’s kitchen, the epicenter of my life since I was tiny. That’s mom on the left.

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Mom helps fix Martha’s supper. This image has me pondering the plight of aging; my mother, whose own age is beginning to lessen her physical abilities, is the caretaker for Martha. Interesting the hazy lines between old and really old. Both of these women were superior take-charge gals ‘in their day’. Martha still, however, rules the roost, giving mom step-by-step instructions on how every last duty is to be carried out. Sheesh. Watching these two, dare I say, ‘control freaks’ in their late-in-life interactions is a good lesson for me: it is good to know how to delegate, but more important to let people help you on their own terms. Trust, I believe, is at the heart of the lesson. It’s hard to relinquish control, I get that. But aging kinda forces it on you. Best to be ready.

IMG_1383A quick smooch with Masie before we head out.

IMG_1465Our first dusting of snow. Beautiful, yes, but we’re not quite ready. Elihu hit his forehead and yelped ‘already?’ when he saw this. I swear he was close to crying. He’s not a cold weather kid. In fact, for some unknown reason, since he was very little he’s been telling me that he wants to live in Vietnam one day. ?? I love him more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’ll be moving along with him. Naw. I’ll be in Italy.

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Good weather for indoor tower-building.

IMG_1498The tallest one yet.

IMG_1188The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in the evening, such a cozy sight. Had a parent’s meeting, and thankfully, my son is now old enough that leaving him for an hour or so is possible. Hope when I get home he’s ready for bed…

IMG_1296When going in to say goodnight, I found a poem on Elihu’s desk. Turns out when he can’t sleep (which is every night, just like his ma), he writes poems in his head, then gets up to write them down before he sleeps. Has a bunch of them apparently. !

IMG_1327Downtown there’s a makeshift memorial on Broadway for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie. The day after he died I posted the photos and obit on the lamppost – within hours people had added balloons, flowers and candles as well as assorted trinkets, including cigarettes, banjo picks and a fireman’s hat.

IMG_1180The look of town has changed rapidly over the past decade, but local folks will recognize these three Saratoga homes, untouched by progress. Seriously, they looked the same in the late 1960s as they do in this 2014 photo. Feeling as I do about change, I relish this image.

IMG_1144We’re giving our young Buff Orpington rooster away to a new home soon, so he’s enjoying a final visit to the kitchen.

IMG_1137Goodbye, handsome fella! (The bird, that is.)

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Nice to see this Red Bellied Woodpecker again this year (a confusing name when it’s really its head that’s noticeably red). Took this from across the room as he’d spook if I got close.

IMG_1417Today we’re going to visit our old goose, Maximus at his new home across town (we’re also giving them the rooster seen above). This is a special morning, so it requires a special breakfast. I surprised Elihu with a pancake in the form of his signature cartoon character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_1436We’re at the gate – and can hardly wait!

IMG_1438I stood and watched in amazement. The flock was free to escape this bird-crazy boy, yet somehow, Maximus did not flee. In fact, he allowed Elihu to get close…IMG_1441!!!!

IMG_1448“Family” selfie. Miss this guy. It’s such a good feeling to smooch a goose. Elihu and I can smooch a chicken and eat a chicken too – the same one, in fact – but we both agree that goose is off the menu for us both now. It just feels different.

IMG_1454They go for one last run before we leave. Max is happy here; he has a pond, lots of open acres in which to roam (note the yak in the background!) and finally, Max has a girlfriend. He has a great life here, so that makes us happy too.

IMG_1459And a final smooch…. for now. See you again, Maximus!

IMG_1508Back at the Hillhouse, giving some love to the king of the roost – and our only resident rooster now – Bald Mountain.

IMG_1151Eyes wide open (indoors, with no lights on), showing me what ‘perfect hair’ looks like. Right on.

IMG_1533Okay, seeing Maximus was special. But this is in a whole new realm of special. These babies ($600 after all was said and done if you can f*ing believe it – they’re just goddam soft contacts!!) are about to change Elihu’s life…

IMG_1284An ordinary picture, right? Look again – this is Elihu, eyes wide open, outside, WITHOUT his dark red sunglasses!! This moment, humble and ordinary as it may appear, is no such thing.

IMG_1189Elihu, about to join his classmates at school for the very first time without dark glasses, is overcome with emotion. I thought I was taking a picture of a smiling child, when he began to sob. You can see the feeling beginning to dawn on him in this image…

IMG_1193He joins his friends on the foursquare court and waits for someone to notice…

IMG_1197Yes!!!

IMG_1216He’s still squinting a bit (he’ll need some supplemental dark glasses for outdoors), but finally Elihu can open his eyes outdoors. Whew!!

IMG_1224I take a quick peek into his classroom to make sure things with the contacts are still ok…

IMG_1242Elihu wants to visit the music store after school with his new contacts in…

IMG_1254We love the use of glockenspiel in some of our favorite polkas. I wouldn’t mind a set of these myself, even if I have no current use for them…

IMG_1263We love this place. I try to make sure he’s not the annoying kid… but he enjoys trying things out for a spin. It is a great opportunity to get an understanding about how different instruments – and different setups – can feel.

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Singing his heart out. He’s been looking forward to this performance for weeks. And again, no dark glasses. A new world for him. Can’t help but think back on his first grade concert… He sang his heart out then, too.

IMG_1511The sixth grade does a eurythmy performance. Eurythmy is the art of sound made visible, and is an important part of Waldorf education. (That’s my little eurythmyst on the far left. He was so psyched to finally be doing his performance in costume.)

IMG_1513And this is Elihu, ending the number and leaving the stage with a flourish.

This act is over, and now a new one begins…

 

Golden Touch April 7, 2014

We’ve been crazy-busy lately, but in spite of that, we both have enjoyed something of a golden touch this past week, starting, of course, with Elihu’s wonderful performances as King Midas in his class’s annual play. (Many times he made sure I knew its true title was The Masque of Midas, with a ‘q’ and not a k.) I cannot relate to you how robust a performance he gave, how clear were his lines, how his understanding of their meaning (in spite of the flowery, archaic language) translated so easily through his speech and gesture… His voice was as crisp, bold and commanding as was his character; his body moved so much like royalty too… I personally loved the part where he admits the fickle nature of humans, and concedes how quickly we forget the small miracles of the everyday. As he eats a grape (which previously his spell prevented him from tasting) he admits that in spite of the lesson he’s learned through having – and then losing – his golden touch, even now the precious fruit was losing its ‘ambrosial taste’. And beyond that, Midas expected that in very little time he would revert to his old ways and completely forget the lessons he had only just learned… I loved the way Midas – and Elihu too, in his understanding and appreciation for the meaning of his lines – had the clarity to recognize that through his human ways he would likely in the end lose the ability to recognize the true value in the everyday. This was a kid who got it, and who conveyed it. The whole cast was wonderful, and many children were able to play their instruments in the production, everyone of the children sang beautifully, and a handful of them enjoyed playing some very animated and funny scenes. The play was a beautiful ensemble piece that will live long in the memories of these children, their beloved teacher, and all their proud friends and family who were there to share in the experience.

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Please forgive – or overlook – the donkey ears. They come out at the end, and we forgot to stash em for the photos.

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A fitting instrument for the king to play, I think.

Things weren’t entirely golden at the start, but we persevered, looking for that unanticipated golden ending… Had a coupla goodnews/badnews scenes of our own play out this past week. Elihu’s bass broke. I went to tune it for one of his plays, and the strings just weren’t responding. I took a closer look at the tuners, and glad my attention was there, for I saw the giant headstock just fall over forward. I caught it, thankfully, so no more damage was done. And the break itself wasn’t a clean one. Worth a look-see at the shop, but deep-down I kinda knew Elihu’s days with this instrument were over. Sad, I thought. My father had seen him first play on it. He’d learned a lot on it – we’d enjoyed making some good music together with it. But then I caught myself, and reminded myself not to get too sentimental. There will be many basses yet to come as he grows. This is a rental, and only a quarter size at that. But still. It was his first. We prepared for a good month without an instrument when good old Ed called from the shop and told us he had a new one in for us. Huh? Really? That only took like a day! Here’s the good news/bad news part. The endpin just wouldn’t come out. Had to be pounded back in when we did finally pull it out with some pliers. Nope. Wouldn’t cut it. Besides, the action felt bad, and I think it sounded like a box. We really had lucked out with that first instrument. (Glad we took down the maker’s name… may try finding him again.) This generic rental was made in Romania, and while we’re pretty sure some fine polkas likely come from this country, this instrument itself was sure not serving as the country’s best calling card. Elihu saw far more promise in his new discovery of a Bajnolele as we awaited the fate of this new rental… Last visit he had his first sit-down with a mandolin, and now this…. Perhaps his problems with these basses was helping to open doors to new adventures… Elihu’s eleventh birthday is in three weeks… He may have another instrument (or two) in his bag of tricks by then…

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Ed ascertains that there’ll be no easy fix here. Time for a new rental. Too bad, this one sounded and played great.

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So in the meantime, Elihu picks up a mandolin. Hey, they’re strung just like violins. Hey, Elihu can play a violin…


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Ed really helped us by getting a new rental in ASAP, only the silly end pin’s stuck. That’s ok, the thing sounded like a box anyhow. Hope the next one sounds and feels better than this. He’ll use his upright electric tomorrow in orchestra – that’ll be kind of a new adventure. Make him a rock star at school, too.!

IMG_1432While Ed tried to work on the bass, Elihu discovered a Banjolele – and now it’s Mama who knows the tuning here and can show lil man a couple tricks. Wow, this thing is fun! Hmm… this might be a lot of fun to add to the collection….

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The culture of fifth grade boys: a renaissance of Pokemon

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Thankfully jamming holds some solid interest. Drums, Wurlitzer, Melodica and Clarinet. !!

Yes, we’ve had some golden moments in the past few days; the class play, the trying out of a couple new instruments (and getting along with em just fine), a couple of long play dates with his two buddies, one of which was outdoors in the new warmth of Spring (and which also included some making of music, video gaming, Pokemon trading, trampoline hopping, woods exploring, plane flying and chicken chasing). Then there was the day we’d waited for for a long time now. We went to visit an old family member. We went to see (with our breath held and hopes not too high) our beloved goose Maximus in his new home. We’ve been told he’d keen on a certain gal, and that he’s found his place in the large flock. That we even saw him at all was a bit of a surprise to us. We’d come expecting the worst – we’d thought he’d likely be deeply embedded in his flock, that he’d turn and run the other way, aloof, wild, anything but how we’d once known him. Thankfully, he was close by when we arrived, and in spite of Elihu’s advances and Max’s slight protests, in very short order Max had allowed Elihu to pick him up. How our hearts warmed! And I got to hold my beloved Max’s sweet head in my hands and kiss his cheeks and head as I had always done. I swear that bird recognized us in his heart. I swear he knew it was us. That we were there – not just any crazy humans trying to pick him up and smooch him – but us, his first family. Elihu spent some alone time with Max, talking to him. Saying things I didn’t need to ask him about – as they were between a boy and his bird.

The folks who took Max in have taken other sad creatures in to live with them. They’re angels who are giving a handful of God’s creatures a better experience on this planet. Good people, good work they do. And we’re eternally grateful that they were able to give our Max a wonderful, full-goose life here on their side of the mountain. My goodness, they even have a pond! Heaven on earth! I think of that tiny pond I’d made here last summer – and remember Maximus doing his ‘up tails all’ move in that tiny triangle of water… Such joy he radiated, and yet in such tiny confines. Can you imagine the goose-joy he’ll feel when finally in a real pond for the very first time? We hope that we can be there to witness it… we hear that when they pull that winter fencing back and open the pond to all the critters of the farm for the first time each Spring – it’s a BIG deal  – an event of sorts. The birds all know and wait at the edge…. Like patrons at a concert waiting to stake out their spot on the lawn… The geese all hang about, nearly frantic to get on that glorious water… The fence goes back and the geese go forth…. A golden moment for sure.

 

IMG_1434Now it’s off to visit Maximus in his new home

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Elihu spotted him right away.

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And had him in his arms just about within seconds.

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After an ‘enforced’ smooching (I got to kiss him too), Max regards us from a distance.

Probably the very most important thing we did this weekend was to stock our incubator. These twenty-four eggs are worth their weight in gold to us… Each year we put them in the machine such that they’ll hatch out the day of Elihu’s birthday party. I can hardly believe it, but this will be our fifth year doing it. It has truly become a tradition on his birthday. What a lovely way to remember his childhood birthdays, too… We were given eggs from our friends at Elihu Farm (I know, right?) and also from Max’s new family. We added some of our own, and between all three sources hope for a good hatch out in twenty-one days. Ya never know. The sound of the small, table-top incubator clicking along, day and night is for us a sound of Spring. From within those tiny machine noises comes a certain kind of hope, of excitement for the future. It gives us a refreshed sense of happiness and possibility…. So much potential, so much unknown…. such a metaphor for life itself.

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Mary Pratt of Elihu Farm. She kindly gave us some (hopefully) fertile eggs to raise up a new flock.

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 Here they are today going into the incubator. They’ll hatch in 21 days.

Ah, such a hopeful time of year. Snow still lingers, but each day there’s less and less of the stuff. Just today Elihu and I both heard some Redwing blackbirds (haven’t seen one yet – that will have me pulling over to the side of the road for sure). This morning the air was absolutely filled with the sounds of nearly a dozen new arrivals – all of whom were heard for the first time today! It’s as if some threshold has been crossed now. How do they do it? we shake our heads in wonder each year, but more unimaginable still is that they all seem to arrive at once. We don’t even try to understand. In this world of 24/7 illumination and patches of untouched nature so few and far between, it breaks our hearts to attempt to comprehend their task. So all we can do is revel in their return and let them know how much we love them, how glad we are to see them. “They really are like family, aren’t they?” Elihu asks me each year as we lean on our elbows and watch the visitors on our platform feeder. “Yes, they are”, I always answer.

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Elihu has loved and consulted his audio bird books for half his life now. They come out again this time of year.

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One of our many daily visitors

IMG_1399My mother hates these sneaky cowbirds, but hey, they can’t help how they’re engineered….

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 The most precious gold of all in our world is the brand-new Spring plumage on our little goldfinch friends…

 

Goose Gone February 3, 2014

This morning will be our first day in half of our time here at the Hillhouse without a resident goose. It’s already been a sad enough time for us, and this is adding to the emotional toll. But in spite of the tears I watched my son cry in the rear view mirror as we left Maximus at his new, beautiful home, I know that things will be ok. Maybe even better. At least that’s what we hope.

Because lately, things had gotten worse. Perhaps because of plain old cabin fever, or perhaps driven by an ancient imprint on his being that made him vent his unexpressed urge to procreate in other, more violent ways, or some other unknown issue, whatever reason was to blame, Max had killed four hens over the past week and had very nearly killed our one resident rooster. That last one was a bizarre and bloody incident, and I knew at that point we’d turned a corner. I did have the means to separate them – either keep the recuperating rooster on his own in the small brooding pen, or confine Maximus to the same small space, but neither was appealing, as it represented another chore to do each and every morning, each and every night. I need all my birds in one place, and I need ease of maintenance. And I will not tolerate violent behavior. If I were retired and had no job but to tend to my flock and home, it might be acceptable. But at this time in our lives, I can’t stop to settle disputes like this. Change was imperative.

Both Elihu and I forgive our beloved goose for his actions, because we know that he was simply acting as he was programmed to. He’s a goose, yes, and he has diligently guarded our property against strangers and unknown vehicles as well as an assortment of predators, but he’s had a softer side too. And since Elihu and I personally knew him in this quiet, tender way, it’s been a bit harder on us. Most folks have little sympathy for Max anymore. My mother especially, who for the past few months has used the most venomous tone when suggesting we get rid of him (or a bit more light-heartedly implied he might end up on a platter). Piano students must pull in close to the house, brooms are left leaning against trees to be picked up as tools of defense, people call ahead when they visit, and the UPS guy just drops the box by the garage and splits. Yeah, it had become a drag to have a guard goose. It wasn’t always thus; my theory is that when he was biologically speaking still a gosling, he was rather charming. He was never threatening, in fact he lived up to his breed’s reputation of being good with kids and people in general. But I believe things turned a corner last year when a certain spark lit within him and he became a young gander.

It first started one day as I was squatting down at the hose to fill a five gallon bucket. The container was white, about Max’s size, and I too, appeared close to the ground. Something in him clicked, and he began honking as he beat his great, six foot wings and ran down the hill from the coop to join me. But rather than stop short to watch as he had so many times before, this time he made a clumsy attempt to mount me, scooting me encouragingly beneath him with his long neck, clearly hoping I’d acquiesse in some cooperative sort of posture. In the moment I didn’t get it, and actually thought he might be attacking me, but he did not hurt me. He nibbled at me gently, but didn’t bite. He cupped his wings around me, but didn’t hit me with them. I was a bit flustered, so I stood up, and instantly he came to, as is he’d been overtaken by some strange force and was now embarrassed and self-conscious of himself. I stood back and watched as the mysterious behavior came over him once more, and he began a second, unsuccessful attempt to get busy with the bucket. First he tried to get on top of it. The bucket fell over and he seemed encouraged. He tried again, but was flustered at the way it rolled out from underneath him. Then he took another tack, and tried to enter the bucket, head first, but found there was no room, and clearly no satisfying end to this choice either. Poor Max. Poor, dear, sexually mature Maximus. He was being just as he was born to be, and there was no natural outlet to his deep, innate desires. Oh dear. I even wondered if I might surrender myself to him just once; crouch down again and give him some feeling of success as he did his best… Flashes of Swan Lake came to me – the strange morphing of a lover into a swan, the strange netherworld of a horrible manbeast – and I quickly dismissed the idea. No, this poor guy was on his own. And we knew if we’d gotten him a mate that it would likely throw off the relationship we two had with him. It’d be him and his gal against us. He’d defend her, and we’d be on the same end as the UPS guy.

After keeping the convalescing rooster in our kitchen for a week – and then our adjacent mudroom as the sour stink of chicken grew – I found I’d reached the end. The nightmare of the Studio’s new situation had just been discovered, and I suppose it was that which tipped the scales. I had too much to do, and if I might have justified a more labor-intensive solution to the bird problem before, I sure wasn’t about to now. I made up my mind that we had to find a new – and good – home for Max. I was resolute, and it was fixed in my heart. On Saturday a tiny voice told me that we should drop in on our neighbors (the ones with the old model T) and pay a visit. I had nothing in my mind about Max specifically, but of course he came up in conversation. They suggested a family in the hills that might very likely take him. I held no high hopes, but imagine my surprise when I dialed the number upon returning home that day, and before I could even offer my backstory, the gal on the other end simply said “I’ll take him”. I’d heard they were not only softies for animals, but that they were good to their animals. The two don’t always go together. I was beside myself with joy, and shared the earpiece of the phone with Elihu as she began to tell me about her pond, the fields, the way she had things set up…. Elihu covered his mouth to stop from squealing with joy. We made arrangements to come by with Maximus the following day. Wow. Ask and ye shall receive.

It’s one thing that we found Max a new home, it’s another that we have visiting rights, it’s still another that they’ll likely continue to call him by his name, but for me the crowning discovery in all of this is that Maximus now lives on a farm that I’ve admired since I was little. When I first got my driver’s license and was free to re-discover all those hidden-away places that my parents were always whizzing past, this was one of the places I came to. Many a time have I put on my flashers and pulled to the side of the road just to stop and gaze at this lovely farmstead. Nestled in the shelter of wooded hills, its open fields undulate up gently to meet the forest, there’s even a two acre pond behind the large farmhouse…. I cannot possibly imagine a more perfect home for our beloved fellow. He’s the only breed of his kind, he’s white and stands taller than them all, so we will easily be able to pick him out when we spot the flock dabbling in the low, swampy patches of the field.

When we dropped him off, the husband and wife owners took us on a short, circular walk around their outbuildings to see the other critters; pygmy goats, a strange, miniature donkey (named Brea – and man, what a sound she makes. Yeeks.) a sheep and some fine looking chickens. In the pasture across the way were a shaggy bull and cow, each with longhorns the likes of which I’d never seen but in images of far-off places. They too were miniature. Was there a horse? I seem to think there was… it was really a lot to take in for a first-time visitor. Above our heads a flock of some twenty or so pigeons wheeled in the sky… this place was heaven. As we walked, Max walked with us, tipping his head every so often to take in a new sight, stopping to listen to the whereabouts of the resident flock of geese. They were loud and rather raspy-sounding, and every now and then Maximus would himself honk, and we both noticed that his tone sounded so much richer and deeper. He was more beautiful than the others, we thought, and now we could hear that he was much more sonorous a goose, too. We were proud, and perhaps just a bit sadder still at having now compared our baby to these strangers. Eventually our visit came to a close, we got into the car and left Max, a bit confused, behind. He talked to us as we drove away, running beside the car as he’d done so very many times before, walking us to the gate where his new mama was waiting to let us out. That’s when Elihu started to cry. In this moment, this bird was still our Maxie, he was still engaging with us as he always had, he still knew us. We both knew in our hearts that the next time we came to see him, he very likely would not.

After Elihu’s tears finally stopped and he’d had a moment to just sit in silence and thought, he told me from the back seat on the drive home “Mommy, that’s the kind of farm I want when I grow up. That kind of farm.” I agreed with him quietly. There was nothing to say now. We knew we’d done the right thing. In fact, we knew we’d given Maximus a far better life in this new place than we were ever able to give him. We knew all of this. But still, the sadness in the car was heavy. Coming home was strange. For years we’d been greeted by that familiar head atop that long, graceful neck, the curious tilt of his head, the peering of that eye, the initial assessment; stranger or family? Family. Max would walk alongside the car, then meander off to do his thing. Shortly after we’d go inside, he might follow us up the back steps and just sit down outside the door, as if wanting simply to be near us. In warmer months, an open kitchen door almost always meant a goose in the kitchen before too long. But a house is no place for a goose. And we’re no substitute for a family of his own kind.

Last night, as we lay down to bed, we looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of Elihu’s bedroom and wondered how our beloved Max was, right now. We had learned that the geese there slept outside – rain, snow or shine, no matter. A far cry from the treatment he got here – heat lamp on cold nights, the kitchen on really cold ones. Would he be ok? Would there be a lot of fighting as he sorted it all out with the other ganders? We realized that Max had never even seen another goose until that day. He’d only ever lived with chickens or people. We guessed by now he knew he was a goose. We prayed that he was able to nestle in with the flock to share in the warmth. We prayed that he’d get enough sleep on this first night. It took Elihu himself over an hour to finally drop off. I too had some trouble sleeping, and somehow felt our homestead to be missing something on this first night. I took a last look at our coop, now goose-less, and sighed. Our lives were changing in so many ways, and I had to go with it. I reminded myself once again that while change is sad, there are new, joyful things yet to come into our lives. Change makes way for the new.

And we here at the Hillhouse are getting ourselves ready for a whole lot of new things to come…

January late 2014 020Our beloved ‘snow goose’, Maximus. He finds the sweet spots where he can graze, mid-winter.

(He is in actuality a “Lavender Ice” which is, as we understand, the newest registered breed in North America. The breed is supposed to be friendlier than other domestic geese, and good with kids and pets. Our experience tells us this is partly so, but in the end, he is still a goose. And geese are tough birds.)

January late 2014 050On his way back up the hill to the coop.

January late 2014 070In the coop with his very best bird-friend, male Guinea fowl, Austin (lowest rung to the right)

January late 2014 080Mama enjoys a final moment with Max.

January late 2014 082That lovely face.

January late 2014 120Elihu feeds Maximus his second favorite treat – he loves frozen peas best.

January late 2014 115Maximus waits around for more, even when Elihu’s gone back inside.

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The kiss goodbye.

A very sad time for Elihu and me both. We hope Maximus goes on to enjoy the best life a goose could ever know.  That’ll make it a little easier to adjust to a goose-free life here at the Hillhouse.

 

Bad Bird January 22, 2014

It has been a long day. Started early and cold. When I went to let the birds out I found Bald Mountain, our three year old resident rooster, upside down and wedged in between a milk crate and the wall, his back end almost bare of feathers and covered in blood. It took a good struggle to free him without hurting him further. Shit. The goose had done it again. Maximus had recently led the flock in pecking two hens – one to death, one to the point of a mercy killing – and this time he’d taken Baldy on all by himself. I’d seen him tugging at the remaining feathers when I arrived, and while I really yearned to give him a good scolding whack, I knew it wouldn’t fix anything. Remorse is not something a goose can feel, and lessons are short-lived. Besides, I was on chicken medic duty once again. My heart sank to see several frozen trickles of blood hanging from the crate. I wasn’t even sure the rooster’d make it to the house alive. But he did, so I began my now-familiar poultry-saving regimen.

The first order of business was to get the poor fellow in the kitchen by the radiator. Next, I provided him with some water and a bowl of my custom mash of high protein feed, nutritional supplements and crushed baby aspirin. Then I waited, hoping he had enough steam left to eat and drink. It took him a while to adjust – he even had a hard time standing at first. All I could think of was my son and how much he loved this stupid bird – we’d done in dozens of gals we’d named, we’d eaten em too, but above all, Baldy meant the most to him. He’d fathered the whole flock, he himself was born of two of our very first chickens. I myself don’t hold a lot of sentiment for boy birds on the whole; they are so fundamentally motivated by the need to procreate that they become a nasty pain in the ass at some point in their lives. That goes for geese too. That damned gander leaves me alone cuz he thinks I’m his gal. (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. He has tried to ‘get busy’ with me many times, but I won’t put up with that sort of behavior. I just swat him away and tell him ‘no’. I feel bad for the guy; he’s just frustrated and lonely, but I do have my limits!) I’m spared his wrath, but no one else is. The poor UPS guy always honks his arrival before daring to exit his truck. Piano students run from the goose, and the rooster too… Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the boys. But we need Baldy around if we’re to keep the flock going in the spring, and he means a lot to Elihu. So I wait around for the injured bird to make a move. Thankfully, within a few minutes he’s going at the bowl of mash and shortly after he’s drinking. Hope that helps. He sure looks bad. But he’s a fighter. I think he’ll make it. But the question then becomes, what do we do with him after he’s better?

Yeah, this throws a monkey wrench into things. Can’t return him to the coop cuz Max will lay into him again. So we need to quarantine him until the warm months return. Crap. That means one more chore on mama’s list. Gotta put the rooster in the brooding pen in the garage. Get him good and strong. Then, when spring comes, we can try him in the flock again. Either Max will have forgotten, or his cabin fever will have abated (I strongly believe that his behavior is a result of close quarters and cold weather). I consider the additional work load. I’m not thrilled with it, but I see no options. I make a note to discuss this with the kid later on.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with the family attorney to go over mom and dad’s affairs, I have recess to monitor, an annual physical appointment with my doc, a chorus to accompany and a string bass to pick up. All these things go relatively smoothly but for the fact that I left something behind at the doctor’s office and had to return the twenty-some miles round trip to pick it up, plus Elihu admitted rather apologetically to me (as we were leaving school) that he had ‘a project on Egypt due tomorrow’. Really? I’d seen the email at the beginning of the month telling us of the project but had myself forgotten the due date. Half my bad too I guess. So then were were off to Walmart to buy some clay and paint. Also stopped in at mom’s to rehearse a couple of tunes for Friday’s open mic night at school (he has a set of congas there that grandma got him for Christmas). Still had to make dinner, clean up and begin the sculpture of Horus, which yet needed to be baked, cooled and painted. Time was escaping us, and it wasn’t until nine that Elihu was finally in bed. Not bad, really, when you consider all that we got done. I’d pushed the cooking temp up a bit, and then super-cooled the bust in the freezer. The whole thing was a bit on the sketchy side – Elihu’s own words – but hell, at least it was done.

As we lay in bed recapping our day, we came to the dilemma of the birds. I pitched the idea of butchering Max. While Elihu was an enthusiastic consumer of all the hens we’d done in, he told me that he would never consider eating Max. Ok, fair enough. A new home? Only if it was a good one – a humane one. No bird auctions, no unknown destinations. Ok. Then what? Elihu agreed that keeping the rooster apart til the weather warmed was about our only option. He agreed to share the duties, and we left it at that. I’m not looking forward to keeping up two bird camps, and I must admit that while I’ve shared some very special moments with Maximus, I’m quite a bit less thrilled with our goose at the moment. I’ve had enough bad birds in my life and I’m not keen on keeping company with yet another. But for the time being, Max is lucky. Our goose isn’t cooked quite yet.

Post Script: You can see Baldy in one of the three photos on the lower right of our home page here. This pic was taken almost two years ago. Elihu’s affection for his roo is easy to see. I can report that three days later Baldy is doing quite well – crowing loudly in our tiny kitchen, strutting and scratching in the manner of a chicken on the mend. His back end is mostly bare, and in near-zero temps we just can’t put him outside quite yet. As he is a fouler smelling fowl than any others I’ve ever had inside my house before, we’re going to move his digs to the basement this weekend. Out of sight, out of smell, but definitely not out of earshot. ! No alarm clocks needed here!

 

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you  that you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt.  Sometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Mid April Pics April 14, 2013

Been busy. I try to keep us an underscheduled household, but even so we always seem to be doing something. Even our down time seems to include little surprises, like a dead robin to examine up close, a quick smooch of a goose, a nice moment with a glider on a windless day…

April 2013 827The birds enjoy the very last bit of snow on the property

April 2013 859He had to be coerced at first, but at last Max succumbed to a good long embrace

April 2013 845Best eight bucks we’ve spent in a while

April 2013 832Poor thing – traveled so many hundreds of miles only to be hit by a car

April 2013 839Here she is up close

April 2013 844Elihu admires her wingspan

April 2013 806You can see why they’re called brown-headed cowbirds

April 2013 875Hmm. This guy seems to be feeling the excitment of spring…!

April 2013 831Mama did her biannual cleanout of the junk drawer

April 2013 906Skidmore College’s Taiko drummers

April 2013 922Elihu takes a turn

April 2013 920That was fun!

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I just want to thank Joe for all his kindness in helping me get setup on my new (refurbished) computer. I’m up and running again and it’s all thanks to him! If you live in the Saratoga Springs area, I encourage you to use J & D computer repair!

 

Better Boy, Goofy Goose August 9, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:24 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Happy to have spoken to my son today, if only briefly. I also received a surprisingly upbeat email from his father, detailing their recent visit to a family doc. Seems the doc had some insights about issues that Elihu is dealing with – including panic attacks, which have returned recently (some counseling a year ago or so seemed to quiet them for a while). Dr. Mark also does not recommend circumcision. Good. There’s an end to that.

I feel a bit bad that I was hitting an afternoon lull in my energy when Elihu and I were talking, and I left off with the promise I’d call him back soon. But I fell asleep, and by the time I called Elihu back he was no doubt at his dad’s gig (in Cleveland, as I had just learned in our conversation. Never a dull moment with Fareed) and he didn’t have access to a phone. So I missed him, but I’m content that he seemed to be in good spirits.

I myself have been busy, busy, busy as usual, all the while wondering how the hell it is that I still have not been able to get my house in order in the four years I’ve been here. I’m almost there – but I still have boxes of ancient papers and media in my office that I haven’t yet organized, and my garage – well that’s a mystery to me. It’s simply an unending job. It’s amazing how my garage just fills up with shit. Literally and figuratively. Housing our goose in the garage while we made our summer road trips certainly didn’t help. Did you know that geese behave rather like dogs? Well they do. They like to chew on things. I have doggie toys for him which he likes, but apparently the contents of the garage were much more interesting. Max got into things, moved them around, chewed on em, pooped on em. I had no idea what a goose was capable of. Kinda cute, yeah, but made for lots more work.

I have finally managed to collect and clean off every last unused item in our life and consolidate them in the garage. I listed them all on Freecycle and hope to have them all picked up by their new owners by Sunday. What doesn’t get taken will get packed into the car and driven the 20+ miles to the nearest Salvation Army. I wonder if they’ll take a goose…